Lord Foster of Thames Bank launched veiled attacks on the government's architecture policies last week when he urged an audience including arts minister Lady Blackstone to stop considering buildings as isolated, short-term investments.
Speaking at the announcement of the Building of the Year, a competition run by the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust, Lord Foster complained that buildings were rarely assessed in terms of quality and that factors such as environmental performance and the well-being of a building's users were often ignored because of the difficulty in assessing them in financial terms. And in a swipe at PFI, he asked why many hospital patients were still being denied daylight when studies showed that proximity to a window greatly reduced recovery times.
'The big issue of the last election was infrastructure and the quality of that infrastructure - and that raises fundamental questions about value, ' he said. 'But how do you define quality? It's very easy to measure a piece of concrete, but it's very, very difficult to quantify benefits.'
Lord Foster argued that buildings had to be considered in terms of a number of factors, including energy use, urban context and functionality. He obliquely criticised the government for lacking a single department that brought these aspects together. 'Who do you go to who encompasses all this? Who, politically, do you go to?' he asked, adding that he had tried to count the ministers whose responsibilities included a building-related link. 'I worked my way through 10 departments.'
The Lowry, Michael Wilford and Partners' £105 million arts centre in Salford (AJ 6.7.00), won the Building of the Year Award. Lord St John of Fawsley, chairman of the trust, said that it was a 'matter of great satisfaction' that the award went to a building outside London. He said the building was 'a joy to see and fun to go into'.
Jeremy Dixon.Edward Jones' extension to the National Portrait Gallery (AJ 4.5.00) took the prize in the gallery category, despite the fact that the NPG's director, Charles Saumarez Smith, was one of the seven judges.
Hurley, Robertson and Associates' Daily Express Building (AJ 13.7.00) took the restoration prize. The 'Jeu d'Esprit' went to Reiach and Hall Architects' Poetry Bus Shelter in Edinburgh (AJ 11.1.01). And a special 'outstanding young architect' award went to Haworth Tompkins Architects for its work on the Royal Court Theatre in London's Sloane Square.
Lord Foster, whose Great Court and Great Glass House projects were shortlisted for an award, returned empty-handed. See the AJ website for the full list of winners.